The marquee matchup of Week 5, and one of the more anticipated games of the entire regular season, is the Dallas Cowboys visiting the San Francisco 49ers. While there’s plenty of reason to think the Niners are the better team overall, some Cowboys could still have big games based on recent trends. They’ll certainly have to step up if Dallas hopes to get an elusive win over Frisco.
QB Dak Prescott
While the 49ers may be 4-0 and still boast a great defense, opposing quarterbacks have posted decent numbers in most games so far. Outside of Daniel Jones in Week 3, who is having an abysmal season in general, here are the stat lines from the other three passers San Francisco has seen:
- Kenny Pickett - 31/46, 232 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT
- Matthew Stafford - 34/55, 307 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT
- Joshua Dobbs - 28/41, 265 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Combined, these three had a 65% completion percentage for 804 yards and a 4-4 TD/INT ratio. They’re hardly glowing numbers, but they also indicate that the ball can be moved through the air. And while San Francisco does have nine sacks so far this year, five of them came in Week 1 against the Steelers.
Dak Prescott is one of the best quarterbacks that the Niners will have played against so far in 2023. While he’s not putting up big numbers in the passing game, he’s only had one turnover so far and is playing with high efficiency. This is all while playing behind makeshift offensive lines, which he shouldn’t be this week as all five starters are expected to play for the first time since. Part of Prescott’s low production has also been reduced passing in the later stages of three blowout wins.
Thanks to a faster release time and other scheme changes, Prescott is also one of the least-sacked quarterbacks so far this year. Dallas has only given up six sacks in four games and limited QB pressure overall. While Nick Bosa will present a problem, much of what Dallas has worked towards this year could neutralize the threat and allow Prescott to stay relatively comfortable.
If Prescott is able to find the right mix of ball security and productivity, he has a good chance of keeping the offense balanced and not allowing the 49ers' defense to exert its will. It’s a signature moment for him, even in early October, and how he responds will have a huge impact on league-wide perception.
EDGE Micah Parsons
The 49ers have also been stingy to opposing pass rushers, giving up just seven sacks so far this year. But three of them went to T.J. Watt in Week 1, which could mean that another elite player will have opportunities. Parsons, among the league leaders with four sacks already this year, will be a factor on Sunday night.
Parsons’ impact goes beyond sacks. He’s been a top-rated edge rusher with pressures and has created mismatches for his teammates. If stopping Parsons becomes too much of a focus for San Francisco, we’ve seen how guys like DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, and Osa Odighizuwa can capitalize.
But in a spotlight game in prime time, you’d love to see Parsons making some of the biggest plays. He’s seen his first two seasons ended by these 49ers, so you know his motivation will be at peak level.
WR Michael Gallup
In what should be a tight, competitive game, Dak Prescott is going to lean on guys he trusts. So far there’s little sign of that with Brandin Cooks, so Gallup stands to be a key target if the 49ers focus on CeeDee Lamb.
Lamb could get his, too. Opposing receivers like Hollywood Brown and Puka Nacua have had strong days against San Francisco. But the second options have also put up good numbers overall; Arizona’s Michael Wilson had seven catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns just last week.
If the 49ers have a weakness defensively it’s in the backfield, so this could be where the proven chemistry between Prescott and Gallup shines. Don’t be surprised if Gallup comes away with at least one score, particularly as a redzone target.
TE Jake Ferguson
Much as recent trends support the idea of Prescott and Gallup having solid games. they don’t bode well for Ferguson. While he’s coming career highs in catches and yards a week ago against New England, opposing tight ends have had minimal production against San Francisco this year. Zach Ertz’s six catches for 53 yards last week was the best day any opposing TE has had by far.
San Francisco’s duo of Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw are key to this trend. They command the middle of the field as well as any off-ball linebackers in the league. Ferguson will probably need to get past them to the safeties to get many targets on Sunday.
Leighton Vander Esch & Damone Clark
It could be a rough day for Dallas’ own linebacker duo. With Christian McCaffrey putting up MVP-worthy numbers so far this year, Vander Esch and Clark will be forced to track the versatile running back and not allow the Niners’ strong run blocking to take them out of plays. They’ll also have to worry about Deebo Samuel and the many ways that San Francisco uses him on offense.
They also have to account for Brock Purdy on the ground. While he’s not a frequent runner, Purdy isn’t Tom Brady and can move if given a lane. Given the Cowboys’ proven struggles against mobile QBs, don’t be surprised if Kyle Shanahan draws up some plays with Purdy as the designed or at least a potential rusher.